That’s me up there, next to my mom. But more importantly, there’s a 1968 Dodge Dart behind us. This was the official beginning of my never-to-end appreciation of the Dodge Dart. It was as basic as you could get. There was no power-anything. Not even power steering (which drove my mom to nickname it “the Beast”). Vinyl seats and floor covering, no A/C, AM radio, crank-windows, manual transmission (three-on-the-tree), and the classic 225 slant-six engine.
My family became a Dodge family in 1965 with a Dodge Dart — a two-door medium blue one. This was after a very bad experience with a light blue 1960 Ford Falcon. It had earned itself a reputation with my father as a lemon. Not sure why — I was too young to keep track of such things, but it was bad enough to end an association with Ford that had stood since 1922 or so.
I eventually ended up driving the ’68 in high school, choosing it (as if I had a choice) over the light blue 1973 Dodge Dart that replaced it as our main car. Actually the ’73 became my mom’s car (to which she gave the more pleasant name of Henry, no doubt due to the added amenities of power steering, automatic transmission, and FM radio) and my dad took the ’68 which he then named “Bessie Lou” (yikes, a little cheesy). He later sold it with 160,000 miles to a colleague in ’79 when an underwhelming yellow-tan Dodge Aspen (with the addition of A/C and carpet) arrived on the scene.
“The Beast/Bessie Lou” (names I never actually used — to me it was just “the car”) survived five cross-country summer trips (Maryland-LA-SF-Seattle-Maryland) and my less-than-gentle driving (downshifts to 2nd gear from 80 mph, full-rev clutch-popping starts), and whatever other abuse my friends and I inflicted that I’m not recalling.
My current car, a 1986 BMW 535i with 290,000 miles (“Rosebud”) is really just the 1968 Dodge Dart revisited. Call me crazy but I think it has a similar feel in the driving (though more power and better handling). There’s a certain wonderful harshness that reminds you there’s a machine underneath it all. The BMW has carpet, leather seats, power-everything, A/C (which hasn’t worked for years), and manual transmission (5-on-the-floor). Of this I am certain: that if The Beast and Rosebud were ever to meet, they’d be friends for sure.